Why Sales Isn’t Off the Hook for Generating Referral Leads

Salespeople aren't the only ones who understand the value of referrals. Marketers get it, too, and they're ready to help sales teams generate more referrals and follow up on the great leads. Equally important, marketing has the tools to streamline the sales process so that every single client becomes part of your team’s referral network.

Sound too good to be true? It's not. Referral automation software delivers what marketing promises: qualified leads. It saves salespeople time and connects them with referred prospects—the only type of sales leads with a 50-percent close rate. Referral automation also helps sales teams nurture existing clients, deepen client relationships, and gain even more referral introductions and qualified leads. What sales exec wouldn't love that?

But this doesn’t mean that your sales team can just sit back and wait for leads to pour in. For referral automation to help salespeople meet the exact prospects they want to meet, marketing needs to know what those “ideal customers” look like.

Help Marketing Help You

Great marketers already understand your target audience. The problem is that everyone in your target market is not your ideal customer. Before marketing can generate qualified referral leads, they need to know how your team defines “qualified.”

Yet, while most formal lead-generation efforts are now owned and managed by marketing, only 51.3 percent of companies have created a formal definition of a “qualified lead.” That’s according to CSO Insights’ “2014 Lead Management & Social Engagement Study.” It’s no wonder 61.7 percent of salespeople say the quality of marketing leads “needs improvement.” They’re not giving their marketing teams enough information to be effective.

The goal: Sales and marketing working together to build qualified pipelines. How? It starts with a joint commitment to build a referral program with the right software and the right integration with your CRM—not just for lead flow, but also to engage sales in the referral process. For example, when a customer provides a referral, the rep gets an email reminder to thank the referral source and to learn about the new referral. Salespeople also receive notifications when referral leads close. Then they can thank their sources and ask for even more referrals. No more dropping the ball on follow-up or "forgetting" to say thank you.

This is great news for sales, but sales isn’t off the hook for generating referral leads! Sales still needs to play a critical role in the referral program, or your team may not get the “qualified leads” they were expecting. Once referral automation is up and running, the process becomes much easier than reps could ever have imagined. But salespeople must help with the heavy lifting up front by clarifying exactly the kind of customer they want to meet. Then marketing can use that criteria to generate great leads via automation, as well as with traditional marketing approaches.

Define Your Ideal Customer

When salespeople know exactly who they want to meet—and communicate that profile to marketing and to their referral sources—they get qualified leads, reach decision-makers, get in early, and close every deal well more than 50 percent of the time.

Your ideal customers are out there. But unless your sales team can articulate the profile of your ideal customer to the marketers running the referral program, your advocates are just taking shots in the dark.

The key is specificity, which seems counterintuitive. Sales pros often think that if they don’t mention everyone they serve, they'll miss out on introductions. But the opposite is true. The more specific the description, the easier it is for both sales reps and their marketing counterparts to understand your ideal customer. Plus, referral sources will know how to make the right introductions.

People want to make the best introduction possible, and you can choose your clients. But you get what you ask for, so ensure your sales team asks for exactly what they want.

As you and your team begin to create the profile of your ideal customer, review these categories:

  • Industry: In what industries is your expertise? Where do you have a track record? In what vertical do you want to expand?
  • Geography: Where is your ideal customer located?
  • Company Size: What size company is the best fit for your offerings?
  • Business Unit or Function: What group of people within the company are your ideal prospects (e.g., CEOs, CIOs, COOs, HR employees, sales or marketing teams)?
  • Type of Person: What are the personality traits of your ideal customer?
  • Situation/Need: What specific business challenges do you address? What are people complaining about? What problems can your team solve?

When you're this precise about your ideal customer, no one will be confused about the best leads for you. Your team will elicit remarkable referrals and receive introductions to the clients they want to serve.

Bottom line: Referral automation software is essential to manage a referral program at scale, but make sure it is delivering the right clients—those who produce revenue and profits, and refer you to others just like themselves.

About the Author

Joanne Black is America’s leading authority on referral selling—the only business-development strategy proven to convert prospects into clients more than 50 percent of the time. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and author of NO MORE COLD CALLING™: The Breakthrough System That Will Leave Your Competition in the Dust and Pick Up the Damn Phone!: How People, Not Technology, Seal the Deal. To learn more, visit www.NoMoreColdCalling.com. You can also follow Joanne on Google+ or Twitter @ReferralSales, or connect on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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